Buyer’s personas: your helpful imaginary friends

When you next come to write a sales letter, a newsletter or a brochure, you will write it quite differently – and much better – if you’re addressing it specifically to one person. I recently wrote a promotional email which worked particularly well, and I know the reason why: I wrote the email as if it was a one-off, personal email to a business contact I’d known for a while and who I thought was an ideal prospect. I actually wrote “Dear [his name]” at the start, to get me in the mood. You really should try this. The boring, impersonal nature of most marketing material suggests that few people do.

But what if you don’t know anyone suitable to keep in mind when writing the piece? What if you’re writing for, say, laboratory technicians or process engineers, and you don’t actually know any in real life?

I’m a great fan of creating “buyer’s personas” for marketing purposes, which are imaginary prospects and customers who between them represent the core of your market. One of the reasons I like them is that even the best salesmen I’ve ever worked with still often make the mistake of taking a single comment from a recent sales call as being somehow representative of the market. If you’ve developed buyer’s personas, you can take that comment on board, but ask: “What would our buyer’s personas say?”

It’s not that hard to create these imaginary people, but you will need input from the sales team. The personas should cover a wide range of your market, so you may need a few. And yes, it works a lot better if you give them names. I’d like to have them as a couple of cardboard cutouts in the corner, ideally, but I’ll settle for some A4 printouts from iStockphoto. Then write your marketing material for Alan, Barbara and Colin. Having imaginary friends isn’t anything to be ashamed of if it gets your job done better.

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